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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Connect, Connect, Connect!

Connections!!! I've already told my students they will be sick of hearing me say this, if they aren't already.

Quotes...make a connection. Vocabulary...make a connection. Characters...make a connection!

Things are meaningful when WE give them purpose. I have my students make meaningful connections with their vocabulary words. They usually start by just looking at me like "how is a word personal?" But then I watch the chain of connections as they explain the word. Amiable reminds me of "amigo" in Spanish and "amigo" means friend and amiable means amigo = amiable. I love hearing them tell me something I never thought of before. Thwart has the word "war" in it and war has opposing sides.

Now I know we can't always have these wonderful personal connections to every little thing, but I'm going to try. The big question is always "so what?" The connection gives them the answer. So what if Hester Prynn is isolated from the town because of her sin, Puritans don't relate to me. Well maybe not but that feeling can. The feeling of being alone. The feeling of being judged for something you have done. The feeling that you can make a mistake that turns everyone against you. That does matter and it matters to many of them. The hard part is getting them to buy into this point.

And more than them connecting, it helps me connect. To hear stories about them I would never hear otherwise. To learn what things they are afraid of or hope for. To really give them a platform to talk about things that matter to them. Their connections are my connections into their world.

First Assignment of the Year

In 11th grade our first assignment was to review Realism from last year. I decided rather than us reading several stories this week to have the students read three different stories. From a writing sample they wrote and an interest inventory they completed, I felt I had a pretty good idea of who my three types of students were :struggling readers, advanced students (who should be in AP), and reluctant readers (unfortunately many of these students are boys). I passed out the stories accordingly...a more complex piece, a shorter piece (as to not be intimidating to my struggling readers), and a piece about war to many of my male students. The assignment was to read it and make notes and be ready to discuss the following day.

I have to make a side note here that there is always something nerve racking about the first assignment. It's both their first impression of you and your first impression of them. You want it to go want to see them succeed.

We come into class the next day and I break them into three large groups according to what they read to discuss. I couldn't believe the comments as I walked around the room. Students turning pages to highlighted lines "can you believe she said that?", "she wanted her husband to be dead!", "that part when he got shot was gross!" Wow, wow, wow. I was so excited to hear what they had to say.

As we split into small groups of three to discuss what each had read the comments continued. They were actually interested in hearing about what others had read! I was feeling on top of the world. I had visions of the students standing up and clapping at the end of class, roses flying in the air as I took a bow, high fives as I ran down the maybe that's a bit much, but you get the point. I felt so encouraged for what the year will be like.

My next class comes in, we get into our large groups and....silence. Nothing. Crickets. I finally here someone say to their group "So who read this?" I tried to read it in lunch, I read the first paragraph, etc were the responses. Dreams shattered! I tried to go around to each group and tell them how funny this story was. The surprise ending at the end of the other story. I even reenacted the end line from the chapter of Red Badge of Courage shaking my fist to the war field screaming "Hell!" Nothing...

Which brings me to what I've been thinking about all morning. How do you motivate someone to read? I can have all of the enthusiasm in the world, bring wonderful reading strategies to the table, give them plenty of insight into the story to motivate them to finish it. But in the end, I can't do the work for them.

We will be reading The Great Gatsby soon. I want them to experience what the novel has to offer. The disillusionment of the time period, sympathy for Gatsby who can never be who he is pretending to be and loves a woman who will never love him back, the hatred for Tom, the desire to see Daisy wake up and see the reality of the whole situation. And even the symbolism (I'm a sucker for deeper meanings). I want them to get to know these characters and be invested in the story.

So that is where I am at this morning. How do we motivate them to read? I want to encourage the parents of my students to read what they are reading. Talk about it at home. "Show" them what it is to read and enjoy.

This is my goal for the year. To all of those who left "Favorite Book" blank on their questionnaire, let's find something you love! One thing, a poem, a play, a novel, a short story. I want them to walk out of here having really connected and enjoyed something we read this year. So that's the challenge and I say "GAME ON"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Here we go

I am excited about the new school year starting...but at the same time I am bracing myself for a year full of changes. I've already spoken to things that I would like to see happen in my classroom and in my attitude toward teaching this year. Those things I will continue to develop and write about throughout the year. But once school starts, it is 100 mph until it's over.

So there are things I am a bit anxious about for this year. Learning how to balance having a child and working. I know millions do it, but I just need to figure out what is best for my family. I am a bit nervous about leaving her, though in very good hands with both of the grandmothers. I have this fear of her forgetting me because she is only 3 months. I just don't want to miss anything.

John finishing law school in December. This will mean a whole new door opening for us, but one filled with the unknown. The bar exam to study for, starting a new career, managing all of the change and our family. I know this is an exciting point and such a answered prayer to see an end to this part of the journey, but we don't know what is next.

Going back to school myself. I am ready to go back. I want to tackle this now while Coley is still so little. I am trying to decide the best avenue in which to pursue my masters. I know that going to school every night isn't an option for me at this time. I am just beginning the research and plan (fingers crossed) to start in the spring.

I know everything will fall into place. It seems at times that the more you have to do, you are able to do more in the time you have (hope that makes sense). I am going to try and just enjoy this weekend with my family and put school/work thoughts on the shelf until Monday. Why worry today about something you can worry about tomorrow :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The first day

So I have a million ideas running through my head about school starting back in a few weeks. After being away from school since the end of April due to maternity leave, I feel excited about getting back. I was preoccupied with many different things last being the growing size of my belly. I left the end of the year, though joyfully about the new beginnings in my personal life, feeling like I got by with doing the bare minimum with my students. My mind was set on survival mode to get through teaching a new class, teaching my Pre-AP class, and publishing the school newspaper. I know I'm not the first person to every have a baby, or any of those other things that people say when you use baby as an excuse...but I really felt overwhelmed much of the year.

But it's a new day! I couldn't be happier with my life at home, and I think that satisfaction is spilling over into a renewed interest to find that same fulfillment in the classroom. In the past week I have been trying to get things together for all three of the different courses I teach. The problem is finding the focus to take these things from "big idea" to practice.

So far my focus has mainly been on the newspaper. We are going to be publishing a web edition as well as our print addition. Now I know with the slow death of print media it seems like a no brainier...but I had no idea how many hoops I would have to jump through just to try and get the ball rolling. I am only at the beginning of this journey at the moment- but at least we are moving in the right direction. I've also been in contact with several very helpful professionals who have volunteered their time to come in and mentor my students. So far we have a photojournalist, a magazine editor, and a graphic designer set up to come in. I was blown away by how eager they were to help. I thought for sure I would hear several "no" before I got a yes. To my surprise they have each exceeded my expectations in wanting to help. I am still trying to figure out the best way to go about setting all of this up, but again it is a start.

As far as my English classes go, I met yesterday with a fellow teacher of mine who is far more tech savvy than myself. I felt both inspired, and..well...ignorant. She had lots of great ideas that I know nothing about, but I am trying to learn. That's where the blog comes in. My journey from what I feel is tech illiteracy. Also, my journey of reigniting the passion I felt for teaching when I started 7 years ago.

So here is to a new year! New experiences, taking chances, and hopefully seeing the end product as a student walking out of my classroom with a love (or at least a stronger like) for literature and learning!